Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Wholesome Broadway?

Went with the family to see the Lion King and just hated it. I've never liked the movie, which I've found charmless, and I have to say the same for the show. True, the puppets and costumes are impressive, but after ten minutes of that, you're left with an icky plot line; bad dialogue; soggy, politically-correct lyrics; lousy music; and dancing that looked as if it was choreographed by an aerobics teacher. I can never get over the feeling that there is something a little bit unwholesome about the Lion King, something anti-family. And that gets me to the point of this posting. PBS ran a six part show about Broadway's history recently, starting with Flo Ziegfeld and working up to the present. The last two episodes were pretty much devoted to Stephen Sondheim and modern Broadway Disney-fication and big corporate shows (Les Miz, etc.). Now, as a preliminary, I don't like Sondheim. I'll grant him his talent -- it's real, both as a musician and a lyricist -- but I always feel as if I'm being dragged through a sewer when I'm watching Sondheim. He's dressed-up sleaziness. The fifth or sixth episodes of this Broadway history also covered the impact of AIDS on Broadway. One of the people interviewed said that AIDS devastated Broadway, because Broadway "is gay men." And that statement struck me, because that was not always true about Broadway. Thinking back to Broadway from the turn of the century through the early (even late) 50s, that's belied by the facts. The producers and directors (Ziegfeld, Irving Berlin, Bob Fosse, etc.) were not gay; the composers, for the most part (Berlin, the Gershwins, Jerome Kern, Rogers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, etc.), were not gay; the performers (the Astaires, Gene Kelly, Julie Andrews, etc.) were not gay; and the writers (Kaufman) were not always gay either). (And no, I haven't forgotten that some famous talents were indeed gay -- e.g., Lorenz Hart and Cole Porter. ) Of course, some shows were hardhitting for their times, such as Showboat in 1927, which tackled racism. And I'm not saying that Broadway performers and creative talents lived wholesome lives (Kaufman and Ziegfeld were both notorious womanizers). Indeed, I'd hate to examine the private lives of many of the talents I named above. Nevertheless, they lived a life that was at least superficially in synch with middle-America: that is, marriage and children. That, of course, is no longer true for modern Broadway, where much of the talent looks down on the traditional American life of marriage and children. And I rather wonder whether that hostility to "ordinary" life doesn't somehow leak into and taint the modern American musical. Even the most "family-friendly" shows don't really have a family-friendly feel. I have no proof for the above thesis, I just have this vague feeling. Any comments?